Less than a week into the new college sports era granting players the right to earn money off their names, images and likenesses (NIL), Wright’s BBQ in Fayetteville made a splash Tuesday as a number of Arkansas Razorback athletes announced sponsorships with the barbecue restaurant.

Offensive linemen Drew Vest, Shane Clenin, Ty Clary, Ricky Stromberg, Beaux Limmer, Ryan Winkel, Austin Nix, Dalton Wagner, Luke Jones, Devon Manuel, Brady Latham, Myron Cunningham, Marcus Henderson and Josh Street have become “official Protectors of the Pit,” according to a tweet from Wright’s BBQ. Cameron Ball, a defensive lineman, is the first of the “Defenders of Smoke” to announce a sponsorship.

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Over the years I’ve noticed some confusion from fans as to whether smoking or cooking of pork is a good thing or a bad thing when rooting for a team whose mascot is a pig. Regardless, it seems like the grilling or smoking of meats — a game day tradition for sports fans all over the country — is as befitting a partnership as any when it comes to the Hogs, and it looks as if the Razorback linemen seem to be having fun with it.

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I spoke to Wright’s BBQ owner Jordan Wright around 8 p.m. Tuesday thinking that I had the list down.

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“We’re up to like 25 right now,” he told me. That includes almost the entire women’s basketball team with players Samara Spencer, Avery Hughes, Elauna Eaton, Sasha Goforth, Emrie Ellis, Rylee Langerman, Marquesha Davis, Ashlyn Sage, Amber Ramirez, Erynn Barnum and Makayla Daniels joining the Wright’s athletes.

“And we got [quarterbacks] Lucas Coley and KJ Jefferson, so yeah, it’s been a fun day,” Wright said.

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As far as what the sponsorship entails, Wright didn’t want to give away the secrets of the sponsorship package, in part because he wants other restaurants to be creative and figure out their own packages.

“To me we’re just really testing the waters,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool little deal to kind of be out front on the small business side, because like PetSmart did their deal last week [with Razorback wide receiver Trey Knox], but no one else has done any smaller deals like what we just did.  … It’s a good opportunity to give kids something, and they’ve been working really hard, so it’s kind of nice that they don’t just have to have a catered meal from Wright’s; they can come eat at the restaurant and take their friends out, and I think that’s a good experience for them.”

Wright said the players he spoke to today were excited to get their first deals in place.

“I told them all the same thing that I would say to anybody that’s looking to do something like [this]: ‘If you want to partner and to be a Wright’s athlete than this is just the beginning. There’s going to be lots of different opportunities that come and as our brand grows.’ ”

In addition to the Wright’s BBQ brick and mortar locations in Fayetteville and Bentonville, Wright’s seasonings and sauces are now being sold in 160 Walmarts and 22 Sam’s Clubs are carrying Wright’s sauces, Wright said.

“So with our retail business, as people know that we’re out there, we’re going to sponsor athletes and maybe that’s a motivation to go pick up a couple bottles and support the brand.”